A big majority of senior shop stewards at BL, representing all 34 car plants, voted to accept the company’s 6.8 per cent pay offer yesterday, and rejected pressure to reintroduce the earlier strike call. Tough management ‘deciding factor’
By Clifford Webb Midlands Industrial Correspondent
Senior shop stewards representing all 34 British Leyland car plants yesterday voted by a big majority to accept the company’s 6.8 per cent pay offer. They rejected pressure by a hard-line minority for the all- out strike originally called for last Tuesday. Stewards said that the deciding factor in the voting was the tough stance taken by Sir Michael Edwardes, the BL chairman, throughout two months of negotiations, ending in his threat to close plants permanently if the strike took place.
The shop stewards’ meeting in Coventry came after mass meetings at car plants throughout the country voted by about two to one for the recommendation of their unions’ negotiating committee to accept the company’s offer. Two hours before the stewards met, 10,000 Longbridge workers voted narrowly to accept. But the voting, by a show of hands, was so close that angry workers immediately mobbed Mr Jack Adams, the plant convener, accusing him of misinterpreting the result.
They shouted “That wasn’t carried” “Sell out” and “Bring back Robbo” (Mr Derek Robinson, the plant’s communist convener, who was dismissed last November) . Mr Adams told the meeting that workers had to decide whether a strike could be won. He believed that it could not. The management had given warnings that BL’s position was so serious that plants would probably stay closed if there was a strike. Men on strike would not receive redundancy payments. He was aware of the bitterness resulting from the management’s attitude, but he urged workers to vote not as a result of a gut reaction.
A strike at Longbridge would at best leave them isolated and vulnerable to defeat. Mr Grenville Hawley, the national automotive officer of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, who chaired the shop stewards’ meeting later in Coventry, said that he expected those plants that voted for a strike to accept the majority view. BL’s management was storing up a great deal of trouble and bitterness by forcing workers to take a single-figure increase for the third successive year, he said.
“In the interest of preserving jobs and keeping a viable BL we have had to take another totally unacceptable offer but it cannot go on like this year after year.”
Sir Michael, who is in Japan, said on BBC television news last night that commonsense had prevailed. He congratulated both management and workers. The two sides had struggled to keep BL cars going and he was proud of them.